The late Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci was a man with many titles, who had as many attributes as he did faults. He’s been called Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, the “Two Buddies” and the “Prince of Providence, which is the title of the New York Times Best selling book written by Mike Stanton, a Boston Globe Correspondent.
Cianci died on Thursday at the age of 74. He was the longest-serving mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. He was elected to six terms and served 21 years in office, but was forced out of office twice due to criminal convictions that have been reported on and written about extensively.
There’s a line in Stanton’s book that reads… “Providence, Jimmy Breslin once wrote, is “where the best thieves in the world come from.” Some might say Buddy did his best to change that, or at least to change the perception that city was and has been dominated by wise-cracking rogue politicians like himself.
Cianci told WGBH’s Morning Edition host Bob Seay several years ago, “my greatest contribution wasn’t building the ice rink downtown, building the mall, moving the rivers, Water fire, re-building Roger Williams Park, constructing nine new schools…none of those things, Bob…the biggest contribution Cianci said he made, “was raising the self-esteem of the people to levels they never thought they could achieve. That was the accomplishment…once you’ve done that all things are possible. “
Cianci was proud to say he created a “Renaissance City.” He told Seay, “When I first became Mayor people were ashamed to say they were from Providence, or from Rhode Island…that all changed. It’s all a matter of selling it and making it happen.”
Stanton joined WGBH Morning Edition host Bob Seay to review Buddy’s legacy following his death.
Stanton says “The city’s come a long way and certainly you can apportion the credit to him for moving the rivers, the (Providence Place) mall, the (water) fire, but Buddy was the ring leader of the circus, he was the master showman, the salesman and how many mayors of a midsize city can say they went to Liza Minnelli’s wedding or was able to pal around with (actor) Anthony Quinn.”
Stanton says at first Cianci was unhappy that he was writing a book about him,, but eventually he says over time the “vulnerability came through behind the iron-mask.”
Stanton agrees there were two-sides to Cianci and tells the story when Rhode Island Judge Edward Torres famously made reference to that fact when he sentenced Cianci to five years in prison on his federal racketeering conviction calling Cianci, a Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Stanton says, “ there was also the ‘funny” Buddy, who wise-cracked to a friend privately, he calls me a Jekyll and Hyde… why is it I don’t get to f-ing pay checks.”
Stanton says the reason why Cianci had widespread fascination beyond the borders of Rhode Island was, “because he embodied the best and worst of American politics. He presided over the birth of a great, old city and there was a breathtaking array of corruption with numerous unscrupulous characters running loose in his administration.”
To listen to the extended interview with Mike Stanton and WGBH Morning Edition host Bob Seay click on the audio file above.